Posts Tagged ‘self-esteem’

maslowshierarchyofneeds-svg

By Mark E. Smith

Abraham Maslow was a well-respected psychologist in the mid 20th century. In 1943, he published a paper in Psychological Review, titled, “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Put simply, Maslow explored what made great people… well… great. However, his research didn’t stop there. Over the next decade, he further studied such “exemplary” individuals, as he coined, as Frederick Douglass, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Albert Einstein. He also studied the top 1% of college students. With this data, he then defined an exact hierarchy of five traits that formed a pyramid, where if you had all of the ideal traits – physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization – you reached the ultimate state of “what a person can be.”

With his “Hierarchy of Needs” pyramid published in 1954, Maslow garnered a lot of attention. It was sort of among the first self-help paths: follow these steps and you, too, can be a fully-evolved, ultra-successful person. Yet, in the 60 years since, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has been questioned. The psychology community agrees there is a hierarchy of needs – breathing obviously comes before love – but many doubt Maslow’s sub-category rankings. For example, does sex come before intimacy, or intimacy before sex, and many argue that Maslow’s hierarchy can vary geographically, from culture to culture. Therefore, there are easily-seen holes in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

As one who’s studied Maslow since college over 25 years ago, I’ve increasingly noted a gap in his pyramid, myself. No, I’m not a psychologist, but one doesn’t need to be in order to understand what we need to be healthy, successful and fulfilled: a sense of purpose.

When we look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, nowhere does he note purpose. Yet, we all know what it’s like to question our purpose, why we’re here, why we do what we do? And, when we have the answer – that is, when we feel a sense of purpose in our lives – it’s the ultimate fulfillment. I’d assert that purpose is as vital as breathing, itself. In fact, in the hospice community, we often hear of those seemingly refusing to pass until their purpose is resolved. A sense of purpose most often defines our lives in the end.

Of course, a sense of purpose is found in endless ways. As parents, striving to do best by our children, it’s impossible not to feel a sense of purpose. In our careers, if we feel that we’re truly making an impact, it gives us a sense of purpose. In our communities, if we serve others, it gives us a sense of purpose. The list goes on and on; however, there is a unifying key to all senses of purpose: we must sincerely feel we’re serving others in some way. This doesn’t mean that we need to win the Nobel Prize for medicine to feel a sense of purpose. Rather, it simply means we must feel that our actions, big or small, serve others. If you walk into a field and shovel snow, at best you’ll just get a workout. However, if you shovel your elderly neighbor’s walkway, you’re guaranteed to feel a sense of purpose.

Purpose is also wonderfully contagious, and we should never be cautious about spreading it – let purpose loose! I recently got wonderfully pulled into a flurry of purpose. A gentleman in our community saw his purpose in collecting clothing for our local men’s shelter. He emailed a single person, and she emailed another, and by the time I was added to the email chain, I was awestruck by so many finding their purpose in the project. There were collection bins being set up, locations secured, and I was like, “Heck yeah, I’ll write the PR for you!” When a purpose bus comes by, get on!

I don’t know where you’re at in your life, but for all of us, a sense of purpose is vital. Sometimes we struggle to find it, and that’s OK – having patience often leads to finding ultimate fulfillment. Sometimes, we have a sense of purpose, then lose it – it happens, and let us take time to rediscover it. And, other times we feel our purpose every day. Purpose isn’t a scorecard, but a journey.

As for Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I’m writing purpose into the bottom tier because I believe it’s absolutely a foundation of our needs in life.

family16

By Mark E. Smith

The philosopher, Laozi, founder of Taoism, asserted, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

How many of us have felt trapped in our existence at points in our lives, where circumstances dictate who we are? So much of our lives can be painfully defined by such aspects as our physicality, our family history, our socio-economics, and what’s projected upon us. I know, as I’ve spent my whole life as “one with cerebral palsy,” where from the moment of my birth, I was told what I am. If we go back in time, or even today, as some may still see me, seemingly incapable on realms ranging from the physical to the mental. And, in some ways, they are right. After all, as one with cerebral palsy, my wife does help me on and off of the commode, and, no, I can’t physically even write my own name.

I could have spent my whole life buying into what I am. We all could, no matter our circumstance or situation. However, there’s nothing to gain by buying into “what we are.” Rather, we have everything to gain by striving toward what we might be. I often recount the story of being thrust from an institutionalized school as a seven-year-old to being one of the first publicly mainstreamed students with a severe disability in the U.S. I had no support, but I did have two choices: I could be the child with severe cerebral palsy who many thought belonged in an institutionalized school – after all, that’s who I literally was. Or, I could push toward who I might be – that is, in my young mind, a “normal kid in a normal school.” Everyone knew what I was, but few believed in who I might be. At seven, I didn’t know who Laozi was, or even the gravity of what I was pursuing. The power of the human spirit drove me toward who I might be.

Here’s the key that I now realize: no matter where we find the courage, consciously or intuitively, we must believe in our power to rise above what we are in order to achieve what we might be. I know it’s hard. In ways, it’s easier as a child because the human spirit is naive to how brutal life can be. As adults, time can wear on us – broken and battered. Toxic relationships, dysfunctional upbringings, social pressures, and on and on can all weigh us down, teaching us what we are, in ways that defeat us instead of inspiring us. There was a period in my 30s where I looked in the mirror and saw what I was: a divorced, full-time single dad with severe cerebral palsy. That’s a grim prospect on the dating scene. What woman would ever take on that mess?

But, that wasn’t what I had to be. What I might be is a loving father, and a man who grew and learned from his past marriage, where life-long cerebral palsy instilled in me attributes of perseverance, self-confidence and empathy toward others who’ve faced adversity. Who I might be was once again what I looked toward, and while change didn’t occur overnight, it led to finding my wife and a second daughter, where my life has remained on an empowered, blessed trajectory encased by love for years now.

See, whenever we find ourselves trapped or discontent with what we are, it’s an opportunity to pursue what we might be. We don’t have to settle for where we’re at. We can strive toward what we might be. Is it easy? No. Is it scary? Yes. Might we fall short in the attempt? Absolutely. Yet, as one who’s found himself at such crossroads many times, indeed, it is only when I’ve let go of what I am that I’ve moved closer to what I might be.

cigarettes

By Mark E. Smith

I don’t believe in self-confidence or ego. Those can waiver, be swayed or mislead us. What I believe in is self-comfort.

See, self-comfort is when we truly accept who we are, as we are, to the core – mind, body and soul. We’re comfortable with ourselves beyond all else. It doesn’t mean we’re full of ourselves or delusional. It simply means we know who we are, from the inside, out – and live as such.

And, it makes life so much easier and successful. Rather than wasting energy on trying to be what we’re not or invest in the opinions of others, we can simply thrive by being who we are. With self-comfort, we know our value, we know our favors and our faults, and we work with it all. Life need not be a struggle; it can be as easy and graceful as a leaf drifting in a breeze.

Being a teenager with cerebral palsy taught me this lesson young. I remember being a freshman starting high school, wanting to squelch every spasm, correct every slur in my speech – an overall fantasy of being someone I could never be. I had unbelievable anxiety on the first morning of school that year. The last person I wanted to be was “the kid with cerebral palsy” at my high school. I did an awesome job at covering up all my insecurities, though, by creating the most ridiculous smoke screen – literally. …I took up smoking.

At my high school, in those days, there was a smoking section, and as long as you could score cigarettes, you could smoke. So, as the initial weeks passed, I slowly merged in with the “tough crowd” in the smoking area After all, when it comes to insecurities, there’s strength in numbers. I bought a black leather jacket and biker boots out of the Sears catalog, stuffed my chest pocket with a Zippo lighter and a Marlboro Hard Pack, and my insecurities flipped into rock-solid confidence. Again, self-confidence and ego can fool even ourselves. In my insecure, skewed mind, however, I was a bad-boy in a power chair – right down to smoking Marlboros, no less.

However, as the school year went on, I realized that I didn’t need to be a so-called tough guy. As my classmates of all sorts embraced me, cerebral palsy and all, I didn’t need to hide behind a smoke screen or facade. I could just be me. I was a teenager with cerebral palsy, and if my peers accepted it, why shouldn’t I?

Ultimately, I gave up cigarettes, and fell in with the general crowd, focusing on my grades, girlfriends, and just being me, spasms, slurred speech and all. And, life was so much easier when I was comfortable truly being me. …But, I wore the leather jacket and motorcycle boots all the way through graduation because …well …they were awesome.

tunnel

By Mark E. Smith

Alone. We’ve all felt it. And that, in itself, is why we’re truly not.

Based on my career in working among a population where trauma is common, I often hear how alone others feel in their challenges and struggles. However, as an ordinary person, I also hear how alone many feel in challenges of all types in everyday life. Yet, I’ve never encountered a situation where someone’s struggles transcended common humanity, where others hadn’t experienced a similar situation, of similar emotions.

In this way, the uniqueness of feeling alone in our struggles isn’t unique at all. In fact, it’s among the most common emotions we all share. It is intriguing, though, that such a commonly shared emotion can be… well… generally unshared.

See, unlike other cultures in the world, we in North America are prone to keeping our struggles to ourselves. The result is, we feel alone. And, so we live in a culture that exacerbates feeling alone in times of struggle, when we’re actually not alone at all in our experiences.

If you’re like most of us, you’ve unquestionably known unfortunate experiences like relationship issues, career issues, financial issues, health issues, and on and on. And, if you’re like most of us, you’ve felt alone during these struggles, as if you’re the only one who’s ever experienced them – especially in the moment. However, most of us have experienced them, too, so why are we all feeling so alone in the process?

The answer is simple: we don’t reach out when we should. As those struggling, we don’t reach out, and when we have a hint that someone else is struggling, we don’t reach out. Why do we behave this way? Well, self-doubt and fear on both sides, that’s why.

When we’re feeling alone in our struggles, we default to these internal scripts, don’t we?

No one understands what I’m going through.

They’ll judge or ridicule me.

I don’t want to be seen as weak.

I’m just ashamed of this mess I’m in.

I don’t want to rock the boat.

Or, for that which prevents us from reaching out to those we see struggling:

It’s none of my business.

I don’t want to embarrass them.

I won’t know what to say.

Based on our culture, these are totally valid feelings. But, there’s one problem with following them – they leave us feeling alone in our struggles, isolated. And, it simply makes any struggle worse and last longer. The antidote, however, is brilliantly simple: share.

Now, sharing can be scary and tough, requiring a lot of courage and vulnerability. But, the rewards of not being alone in our struggles outweigh all of those seeming risks. If you’re struggling alone – and we all do at times in our lives – share it with someone you trust. Interestingly, trust, in itself, can be a far more liberal definition than most might think in times of struggle. Some of the most healing, profound conversations I’ve ever had have been with virtual strangers, those recently met. What’s important is that we reach out, and it’s astounding how the sharing or inquiring of just a hint of ourselves exposes the common humanity of us all, realizing we’re not alone.

I don’t know what you’re struggling with our will be struggling with. But, I know that none of us are exempt from struggles, and none of us need to be alone in our struggles. In your tough times, I encourage you to reach out, where the hand that you grasp will feel comfortingly a lot like your own.

autop

By Mark E. Smith

I’ve spent a lot of my life around two areas – boats and dysfunction – and what I’ve learned is that in either case, if we’re not careful, “autopilot” will fail us.

See, living in dysfunction is a lot like being aboard a boat running on autopilot – we’re not questioning or changing, but continuing on a haphazardly set course. And, as waters worsen or dangers approach, if we don’t take control, our boats – read that, our lives – will collide with them in the most harrowing ways.

For me, taking life off of autopilot has been a very personal process. As one raised in a dysfunctional family, I only knew what I knew, and my emotions were on autopilot for a long time. Turning off that autopilot proved harder in some ways than others.

Alcoholism, addiction, poverty, and a lack of education were all fairly easy for me to avoid because my awareness was so blatant. When I had welfare Christmases, parents with ninth-grade educations, and an unbroken family lineage of alcoholism and addiction, it was fairly obvious that our family’s autopilot was a disaster in full swing, cruising in the Oblivion Sea.

For me, turning off autopilot started as young as 10, but really by my teens I saw my life set on a course for collision and I took control of the helm. I saw everyone around me literally dying from living on autopilot, and I knew I had to turn that monster off for myself. Once aware and assuming conscious control of my life, I steered around the many dangers my family collided with. However, I was fortunate in that aspect – that I somehow had the understanding to do so – where I empathize with how difficult it becomes for many to turn off autopilot the longer we’ve unwittingly been on it, often from birth. It’s simply not as easy as my words read to break cycles of dysfunction, to turn off autopilot.

And, emotionally, I absolutely remained on autopilot for quite some years. Again, for me, getting off of autopilot has proved harder in some ways than others. I grew up knowing that those who loved me also hurt me, so love and hurt were intertwined. My head was off of autopilot – sober and successful – but my heart was still running its course. And, so I found myself in relationships of all sorts – from marital to sibling to friendship – that hurt, that as the psychobabble calls it, were toxic. It’s what I knew, what I grew up in, and continued living. That’s the sinister beauty of autopilot – once you’re on it, it continues on a course without any effort by you.

Awareness, though, once again proved my switch to turning off autopilot. Once I was aware that my heart was on autopilot, steering me into collision after collision, all my relationships changed. Some I just cut off; some I set healthy boundaries; and some I started anew with healthy individuals.

I’m still not perfect at any of this, and never will be, but every once in a while, when the autopilot that I grew up in intrinsically kicks in, my awareness takes the helm in a reflex type action, where I’m able to quickly correct and stay on a healthy course.

Through what I’ve lived and learned, I see among the greatest gifts that we can give others is the truth that they can break cycles of dysfunction, turning off autopilot. There’s a big difference between preaching from the mouth and speaking from the heart. I believe in speaking from the heart, and when a young person at risk in my circle was recently running on autopilot – it’s what they grew up in, escaped, then were thrust back into it based on a traumatic chain of events – I took the time to remind them of how far they’d come, to be aware that although understandably they’d temporarily returned to autopilot, awareness was what would keep them emotionally safe – that is, regrasping the helm and steering a healthy course.

Now, it’s not possible for everyone to just turn off autopilot and get their lives moving in healthy directions. We know of the medical effects that alcoholism, addiction, and mental illness have on those immersed in those conditions. These aren’t autopilots that just turn off. But, for the rest of us – and especially youth in our families and communities at risk – the ultimate intervention isn’t once there’s no turning off autopilot, but acknowledging our vulnerabilities to it early on, and elevating our awareness to the point that we turn it off and truly take control of our lives in healthy ways before life is spiraling beyond our control.

The fact is, we have no choice in how the dysfunction of autopilot gets turned on in our lives – typically, we’re born into it or trauma ushers it in. However, when we’re aware that it’s been turned on and we are running on it or at risk of running on it, that’s the time to turn it off. See, turning off autopilot removes continuing living the pain of our pasts, and allows taking the healthy helms of our futures. May you and I chart the healthy course our lives are meant for.

kermit

By Mark E. Smith

If you look back at the GOP primaries of 2016, an interesting dynamic occurred at one point. There were two candidates – Marco Rubio and Donald Trump – with very different dispositions. Rubio was historically one of a positive message, while Trump was much more aggressive. And, both personalities had their place, per voters. Some were drawn to Rubio’s personality, while others were drawn to Trump’s.

Going into the Florida primary, the state was arguably up for grabs. It was Rubio’s home state, giving a candidate typically an advantage, but Trump, a known businessman in Florida, had very strong poll numbers.

However, the week of the primary, a lot changed. While Trump stayed with his aggressive messaging, Rubio made an abrupt change with his. To supporters’ dismay, Rubio went from his typical messaging to very aggressive, Trump-like messaging. And, it contributed to costing Rubio the primary.

See, voters wanted the Marco Rubio they’d always known, not a candidate who suddenly engaged in Trump-like aggressive rhetoric. By all accounts, Rubio becoming someone he wasn’t proved a catastrophic mistake.

Of course, there were a lot of other dynamics – some going back years – that cost Rubio Florida, but by most political observers’ accounts, his trying to be someone he wasn’t in the final week was the tipping point for Rubio’s loss.

The whole situation reminds me of our personal lives, how miserably we fail when we try to be someone we’re not – and worse yet, the toll it takes on us.

Outwardly, we can seem ridiculous in trying to be someone we’re not. A buddy of mine is one of the kindest, most sincere guys you’ll ever meet – the kind of gentleman many women would fall for in an instant. But, he has it in his head that he has to be a “cool player” when it comes to meeting the ladies, transforming into a cologne-drenched show-off who’s… well… ridiculous. The female friends in our circle have told him the simple truth: being yourself attracts others, not trying to be a studly caricature.

When we’re outwardly trying to be someone we’re not, we mostly risk embarrassment – or not getting dates in my buddy’s case! However, when we’re trying to be someone we’re not on the inside, it’s painful at best, self-defeating at worst. When I began dating my wife, I put my best foot forward, but I also vowed to myself – and ultimately her – that I wasn’t going to hold any aspect of myself back. If she fell in love with me, great. But, if any aspect of who I am chased her away, it would be my loss, but at least I was honest in the process. Nowadays, when we’re in the kitchen and I’m admittedly letting my twisted sense of humor fly, sometimes to her dismay, I have the ultimate defense, “You knew who you were marrying!”

Imagine, though – or maybe you’re there now – how painful it is not to be able to fully express yourself out of fear of rejection by those you love. Think about what it’s like to be in a family dynamic or relationship where you don’t feel safe expressing who you truly are. We know clinically that when we keep aspects of our identity bottled up, rates of depression, low self-esteem, substance abuse, and even suicide all skyrocket. Not being ourselves can literally be dangerous. Marco Rubio lost an election; but, Tyler Clementi lost his life when he jumped off of the George Washington bridge due to the shame he felt from being outed as gay.

None of this need be – and it’s a two way street. We must have the courage to just be ourselves, and we likewise must create an interpersonal dynamic where we welcome others to be themselves. In living such an open life, just think of how easy, comfortable and fulfilling it all becomes, where you can just be you. A Chinese proverb puts it best: Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are….

Transcript:

That man. That man. No Sam I am, but I am a minority, rolling with authority, living life proudly as who I am – because, man, I am that man.

No, I’m not a misfit, but a paradigm shift, where when the world says I can’t, and I say screw you, Captain Sulu – because I can. Man, I am that man.

Like a two-dollar bill oddity disband, I can thrive and jive – on the dance floor, had a boombox back in ’84 – and the band plays on and on and on like the wheels rolling on my chair, wind blowing in hair. Because, man, I am that man.

There’s no price of admission – disability isn’t a curse or condition – it’s just the way it is, say it like it is, live it as it is – screw those with ignorance, where what some call a hairdo is really just friz. Because, man, I’m that man.

Bold and determined, bulldozing like a tank named Sherman, I am a minority, and I’ll use my authority to make the world stand on end – screw you, I refuse to pretend who I am, because I’m proud to be me, all that you see – shout it, cerebral palsy – because, man, I am that man.